Group says ag programs should include trade issues

Research group says the new ag framework should address changes in the sector, not just update of programs

An agricultural economics research organization says discussion on the next agricultural policy framework should focus on more than just renewing the existing set of programs.

Otherwise, the new agreement risks being unable to provide a stable base for the industry, says Guelph-based Agri-Food Economic Systems.

The organization issued a policy note last week saying a bolder agreement is required to deal with changes in the sector and issues such as trade agreements and carbon initiatives.

The Calgary Statement issued by the federal and provincial governments in July outlined the themes and priorities for the next APF. Governments have begun work on developing the replacement for Growing Forward 2, which expires March 31, 2018.

“We’ve got everybody at the table,” said co-author of the policy note Al Mussell. “If we could build that (discussion) out into something that goes further to really look at our policy direction, not just how our programs are structured and funded, we think that we have a really important opportunity to do that right now.”

The authors identified demographic trends as a key factor that should shape the framework.

Agricultural census data is scheduled for release next May and Mussell said he expects the number of Canadian farms operating at much larger scales will shock some people.

He said the number of farms with sales of more than $1 million or $2 million will be up sharply.

“Now what are the chances that the needs of farms operating at over $2 million in sales, in terms of business risk management programming, are the same as farms operating at $50,000 in receipts?” he said. “We traditionally have a set of BRM programs that in effect treat one size fits all.”

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said it’s true that existing BRM programs have aimed somewhere in the middle and that does cause problems.

He said while big farms are getting bigger, there is also a strong small farm sector focusing on local niche markets.

Bonnett said crop insurance is needed no matter the farm size.

“Some of the AgriInvest and AgriStability programs might need a different focus but we don’t have good enough information to suggest any drastic change at this point,” he said.

He agreed a more robust planning process about the direction of Canadian agriculture is needed but said there likely isn’t time to include that in the next five-year agreement.

And he said that type of work should be separate from the APF process.

“There needs to be a much more robust planning process about the direction that we’re going to go,” Bonnett said.

“I think that exercise is somewhat separate to the APF. The APF I would view as developing the tools to address the issues identified in the planning process.”

Mussell said 18 months would be enough time if more people and resources were dedicated to the discussion. He said just looking at how issues in agriculture have changed since GF2 was implemented in 2013 should indicate how critical it is to have a broader discussion.

He noted that federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s mandate includes the development of a national food policy.

“I think maybe farmers brush this off, but just watch what happens when you open the door to a national food policy,” Mussell said. “There will be people that advance opinions about how food should be produced that will seem very off the wall and odd and impractical and radical to a lot of the ag community, but the reality is if you’re going to have a national policy, you have to find some way to work with these varying opinions and still maintain a competitive and efficient system.”

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